Focal Passage: Matt. 1:1-12
Have you ever attended a
church that used an alarm system? I certainly understand the reasoning behind
such security measures, but I sometimes fantasize about asking a church why an
alarm system is necessary. “Because we need to keep would-be thieves out of the
church,” might be the response.
To which I would love to
counter, “Why keep the thieves out? Church is exactly where they need to be!”
Sure, such a hypothetical
exchange is nonsensical, but if you stop and think, I bet you know of a church
that has unwittingly adopted an “alarm system” mentality. Stated another way,
you probably know of a church with semi-permeable walls: friends are let in,
strangers are kept out.
The magi of Matthew’s birth
narrative were strangers in a foreign land.
Unfortunately, during the
Christmas season their story is often recounted with such cuteness that we may
fail to discern how spectacular such a visit would have been. Only Matthew’s
gospel, written for a Jewish audience, records the visit of these mysterious
gift-bearing magi, who were, among other things, Gentiles! These magi were not
part of the Jewish religious establishment, they looked and spoke differently
than the Judean natives, and their customs may have made them stand out in a
Nevertheless, they were
searching for Jesus, even before they knew who He was.
How many people outside the
church are searching for someone they’ve yet to meet?
More importantly, how are we
as Christians helping strangers find the one they seek?
Are we a welcoming community
that is not intimidated by differences in culture or custom, or do we make a
preemptive attempt to sort out the wheat from the tares, the friends from the
Forgive me for the
disturbing image, but instead of having “alarm system” churches, what if we had
churches that were more like roach motels? You know, easy to get in, but hard
to get out.
Again, it’s a silly idea,
but perhaps it’s also crazy enough to work.
What if churches readily included
strangers into the fold, rather than sounding the “intruder alert”?
What if congregations made
visitors seem so welcome and accepted that these “outsiders” hated having to
leave? Such a concept is certainly not novel, for Jesus himself was intently
concerned with the plight of the stranger, the outcast, and the marginalized
(e.g. the entire Gospel of Luke).
The story of the magi
reminds us that, even as a newborn, Jesus was a magnet for outsiders.
As Christians, can we
describe ourselves the same way?